Tuesday, May 3, 2011


With death comes sadness. And when it happens to a young person, the emotions intensify. Grief. Pain. Heartsickness. But when it is the result of a young person taking their own life, the mix of feelings is almost unbearable.

Over the weekend, I received a phone call. My nephew’s college roommate, and close friend, had shot himself.

I was shocked, of course. You never expect anything like that. My thoughts immediately went to my nephew. He was present in the apartment when it happened. He accompanied his friend to the hospital. He talked to the young man’s parents about what happened. And he saw life pass from his body.

No one should ever have to endure any of that, let alone someone who is just beginning his journey into adulthood. My heart aches for the incredible pain that my nephew has gone through the past few days. And I am angry that he had to suffer so much trauma that will take much time to heal.

I also grieve for the parents who lost their son. Children are not meant to die before their mom or dad. I cannot imagine how terrible this is for them. As a parent myself, I would think that this is the worst thing that can happen.

You try to make sense of it all. But, I think, the reality is that it doesn’t make sense. This is not how things are supposed to happen.

I wish I could find the words that would somehow make everything better. Of course, that is not possible.

Instead, I quote from part of an essay that may provide just a bit of perspective. Mary Schmich of the Chicago Tribune wrote last Thanksgiving:
My mother once said something that has played over and over in my mind in the few months since she died, and I hear it strongly as we get closer to Thanksgiving.

"Even the terrible things," she said, on a sunny day in what would be her last September, "seem beautiful to me now."

I rarely saw my mother cry, despite the many reasons she might have, but on that afternoon in her backyard, she cried a little, tears that I sensed were equally for the beauty and the sorrow in her life, and for the recognition that, when it's all done, beauty and sorrow are one and the same.

Even the terrible things seem beautiful to me now.

What she was saying that day, I think, was that it's all life. The things that hurt your heart, wound your pride, drain your hope, leave you lost, confuse you to the point of madness. That's life, life with its endless, shifting sensations and its appalling urgency and its relentless drive toward mystery…

I think you have to be old to see how beautiful the terrible things are, my mother said that afternoon, and I suspect she's right.

Maybe we can't see the beauty in the terrible things until we're approaching the final beauty and terror. In other words, death: the ultimate proportion gauge.

Maybe only when you take your last step back from the canvas can you see how gorgeous all those wrong strokes and smudges look when viewed together.

All of the best times in my life have grown directly out of the worst times. What feels like manure often turns out to be fertilizer.

But what I took from my mother's remark wasn't just that good may grow out of bad. It's that the bad is its own beauty.

We all resist what's difficult and painful. We run from it. We curse it. It comes anyway, as inevitable as weather.

Most of us have gone through at least one time in our lives that we would call terrible. Everyone I know well certainly has.

A disease. A rape. A parent's suicide. The death of someone you love. The collapse of a dream.

These are things you would never wish on anyone, just as I would never have wished for my mother some of what befell her.

But as we approach Thanksgiving, I'm more grateful than ever to her for the ways she helped everyone around her understand that the hard times make you whole. They make you play the entire keyboard. They allow you to experience the full range of the most basic thing we give thanks for: being alive.

Life goes on. We all go on. Tomorrow, I will resume writing about some lighter topics. Today, I pause for reflection.


  1. I agree with you wholeheartedly. Very well put...as was the article written by Mary Schmich.


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